There’s an easy way to tell if you have flat feet. Simply wet your feet, then stand on a flat, dry surface that will leave an imprint of your foot. A normal footprint has a wide band connecting the ball of the foot to the heel, with an indentation on the inner side of the foot. A foot with a high arch has a large indentation and a very narrow connecting band. Flat feet leave a nearly complete imprint, with almost no inward curve where the arch should be. Most people have “flexible flatfoot” as children; an arch is visible when the child rises up on the toes, but not when the child is standing. As you age, the tendons that attach to the bones of the foot grow stronger and tighten, forming the arch. But if injury or illness damages the tendons, the arch can “fall,” creating a flatfoot. In many adults, a low arch or a flatfoot is painless and causes no problems. However, a painful flatfoot can be a sign of a congenital abnormality or an injury to the muscles and tendons of the foot. Flat feet can even contribute to low back pain.
As the name suggests, adult-acquired flatfoot occurs once musculoskeletal maturity is reached, and it can present for a number of reasons, though one stands out among the others. While fractures, dislocations, tendon lacerations, and other such traumatic events do contribute to adult-acquired flatfoot as a significant lower extremity disorder, as mentioned above, damage to the posterior tibial tendon is most often at the heart of adult-acquired flatfoot. One study further elaborates on the matter by concluding that ?60% of patients [presenting with posterior tibial tendon damage and adult-acquired flatfoot] were obese or had diabetes mellitus, hypertension, previous surgery or trauma to the medial foot, or treatment with steroids?.
The first stage represents inflammation and symptoms originating from an irritated posterior tibial tendon, which is still functional. Stage two is characterized by a change in the alignment of the foot noted on observation while standing (see above photos). The deformity is supple meaning the foot is freely movable and a ?normal? position can be restored by the examiner. Stage two is also associated with the inability to perform a single-leg heel rise. The third stage is dysfunction of the posterior tibial tendon is a flatfoot deformity that becomes stiff because of arthritis. Prolonged deformity causes irritation to the involved joints resulting in arthritis. The fourth phase is a flatfoot deformity either supple (stage two) or stiff (stage 3) with involvement of the ankle joint. This occurs when the deltoid ligament, the major supporting structure on the inside of the ankle, fails to provide support. The ankle becomes unstable and will demonstrate a tilted appearance on X-ray. Failure of the deltoid ligament results from an inward displacement of the weight bearing forces. When prolonged, this change can lead to ankle arthritis. The vast majority of patients with acquired adult flatfoot deformity are stage 2 by the time they seek treatment from a physician.
In diagnosing flatfoot, the foot & Ankle surgeon examines the foot and observes how it looks when you stand and sit. Weight bearing x-rays are used to determine the severity of the disorder. Advanced imaging, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CAT or CT) scans may be used to assess different ligaments, tendons and joint/cartilage damage. The foot & Ankle Institute has three extremity MRI?s on site at our Des Plaines, Highland Park, and Lincoln Park locations. These extremity MRI?s only take about 30 minutes for the study and only requires the patient put their foot into a painless machine avoiding the uncomfortable Claustrophobia that some MRI devices create.
Non surgical Treatment
Flatfoot deformity can be treated conservatively or with surgical intervention depending on the severity of the condition. When people notice their arches flattening, they should immediately avoid non-supportive shoes such as flip-flops, sandals or thin-soled tennis shoes. Theses shoes will only worsen the flatfoot deformity and exacerbate arch pain. Next, custom orthotics are essential for people with collapsed arches. Over-the-counter insoles only provide cushion and padding to the arch, whereas custom orthotics are fabricated to specifically fit the patient?s foot and provide support in the arch where the posterior tibial tendon is unable to anymore. Use of custom orthotics in the early phases of flatfoot or PTTD can prevent worsening of symptoms and prevent further attenuation or injury to the posterior tibial tendon. In more severe cases of flatfoot deformity an ankle foot orthosis (AFO) such as a Ritchie brace is needed. This brace provides more support to the arch and hindfoot rather than an orthotic but can be bulky in normal shoegear. Additional treatment along with use of custom orthotics is use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) such as Advil, Motrin, or Ibuprofen which can decrease inflammation to the posterior tibial tendon. If pain is severe, the patient may need to be placed in a below the knee air walker boot for several weeks which will allow the tendon to rest and heal, especially if a posterior tibial tendon tear is noted on MRI.
Surgery should only be done if the pain does not get better after a few months of conservative treatment. The type of surgery depends on the stage of the PTTD disease. It it also dictated by where tendonitis is located and how much the tendon is damaged. Surgical reconstruction can be extremely complex. Some of the common surgeries include. Tenosynovectomy, removing the inflamed tendon sheath around the PTT. Tendon Transfer, to augment the function of the diseased posterior tibial tendon with a neighbouring tendon. Calcaneo-osteotomy, sometimes the heel bone needs to be corrected to get a better heel bone alignment. Fusion of the Joints, if osteoarthritis of the foot has set in, fusion of the joints may be necessary.